A Twist Of Fate
A novel without conflict is like a hot fudge sundae without the fudge. A Twist of Fate lacks any real conflict, and it reminded me of unadorned vanilla ice cream – pleasant, perhaps even sweet, but fundamentally uninteresting.
While lost in a snowstorm, Lord David Winterbrook comes across a woman whose gig slipped into a ditch. Three generations of Winterbrooks have known their loves at first sight, and David is no different. He immediately recognizes that Madeline (Lynn) Graves is “the woman he had been searching for, the lady he would love for the rest of his life.” Lynn is a widow and extremely wary of men, but in return for his kindness in helping to recover her gig, she insists he stay in her cottage rather than foolishly attempting to make it to the next village in the blinding snowstorm.
Once David tends to her animals, there is little for the two of them to do but talk. David discovers Lynn is extremely hard of hearing – nearly deaf, in fact – and he begins to realize the “accident” that caused her current condition was actually a violent, abusive husband. Lynn discovers that David is a widower with a small daughter and a man who was no happier in his marriage than she was in hers. Lynn, whose experience with men has been limited to very unpleasant sorts, is stunned to realize that David is a very nice man. He is the only man who has ever bothered to figure out how close he needs to stand for her to understand his words, and the only man she’s ever met who’s willing to wash dishes. Indeed, she thinks of him as a saint several times. Eventually Lynn becomes very ill and David takes care of her for several days, since the roads continue to be impassable. During this time, David learns a great deal about Lynn’s history as she mutters incoherently in her delirium, and he grows to admire her strength.
This is essentially a character-driven romance; very little in the way of plot occurs. This can be extremely effective, but only if the characters are truly fascinating. But David and Lynn are simply too nice to be all that intriguing. David has a mildly interesting back story with regards to his disastrously failed marriage, but he is very much a beta hero. He’s kind, thoughtful, and perfectly willing to engage in manual labor. (Along with collecting eggs and washing dishes, the man even polishes the silver.) He is so perfect that he really should be a candidate for canonization. One would think a man of David’s position would shun such labor as women’s work or as simply beneath him, but David doesn’t. He’s the kind of man you’d want to marry in real life – sweet, kind, and thoughtful – but in a novel, this fails to dazzle.
Lynn is an equally nice, but somewhat bland character. After suffering through an unpleasant marriage, she desires nothing more than a peaceful, quiet life and, in an effort to compensate for her near deafness, is alone for much of the time. She’s understandably a little jumpy around men, and is prone to bursting into tears for very little reason, but she’s quite likable.
I usually like the “love at first sight” plot device, but in this particular case I found the speed with which David and Lynn fall in love to be a little hard to swallow. They meet on a Monday, and David asks her to marry him by Saturday – and this after Lynn has been ill and delirious for several days. Lynn falls for David pretty easily, as well, forcing the reader to wonder if she’s simply lonely or, perhaps, grateful. She wavers so much on the subject of marriage that her love for David isn’t entirely convincing. At any rate, their early declarations of love leave very little to interest the reader in the latter half of the book.
Most of the book’s conflict is in the past. Both David and Lynn had failed marriages, but they seem to have largely left those disasters behind. True, Lynn still has lingering difficulties trusting a man, but they are minimal, and she agrees to marry David fairly readily. Every bit of conflict is internal, and even though I expected some tension to arise from a visit from Lynn’s father, he leaves after seven pages. A minor bit of conflict arises near the end of the book when Lynn discovers that David hasn’t told her everything about himself, but this is easily dealt with as well. And if the reader expects any sort of problem to arise from David’s four-year-old daughter, she seems entirely happy to acquire a stepmother.
As the story winds down, Lynn becomes entirely too much of a watering pot, and the firmness of her character seems to melt away. She worries that David doesn’t love her any more because he’s spending time managing the estate. She dissolves into tears because she thinks fifteen pounds was too much to spend on David’s wedding present. I didn’t care for this sudden weakening of Lynn’s character, just as I didn’t like the way that Lynn’s past was swept aside. Without getting into spoiler territory, let me add that I didn’t care for the way her memories of spousal abuse were casually dismissed.
A Twist of Fate isn’t a horrible book, but it isn’t an engrossing one, either. If you’re looking for a pleasant visit with two unexceptional characters, this might be the book for you. But if prefer a novel with conflict and compelling characters, look elsewhere.